The silent film start began his career in 1913 as an extra at Universal Studios earning $3.00 per day. Chaney faithfully brought his leather make-up kit each day so he could play any character the studio needed. Chaney played over 150 different roles from 1913 to 1930. He later wrote the article on move make-up featured in the 1929 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Chaney said of his diverse roles, "The parts I play point out a moral. They show individuals might have been different if they had been given a different chance."
Chaney often took incredible measures to create his characters. For his sole vampire role in London After Midnight (1927) he inserted fish hooks in his cheeks and used wire around his eyes to achieve a corpse-like leer. Chaney pulled back his eyes and nose with spirit gum and used cotton and collodian to broaden his cheeks in order to create the Phantom's skeletal appearance for Phantom of the Opera (1925). Chaney wore a 50 pound hump to portray Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Norte Dame.
His friend, Boris Karloff said of Chaney, "No one suffered as much as he did to bring a tragic, poignant quality to his roles."